Relational embeddedness, breadth of added value opportunities, and business growth

John K. Mawdsley, Deepak Somaya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current paper complements and extends traditional Penrosean theories of firm growth by examining how a (supplier) firm's relational embeddedness with its portfolio of existing buyers affects its business growth. Our theorizing rests on the foundation that a firm's business growth stems from its breadth (or volume) of opportunities for creating added value with buyers, which more fully realizes the Penrosean vision that firm growth can be explained by a dynamic interaction between productive resources and demand-side market opportunities. Although relational embeddedness may give a supplier dyadic advantages with focal buyers, which supports business growth, we theorize that it can also lead to narrower added value business opportunities with the supplier's entire portfolio of buyers. Critically, we hypothesize that the effect of relational embeddedness on business growth is moderated by a set of relational and demand-side attributes. These hypotheses are tested on a panel data set of patent law firms (suppliers) and their relationships with corporate clients (buyers). We find that greater relational embeddedness is associated with slower supplier business growth, and consistent with our hypotheses, this negative effect is alleviated when these firms have greater cross-servicing ability and receive more relational commitment from buyers but exacerbated when suppliers hold more buyer-specific knowledge and when buyers undertake more (internal) concurrent sourcing. In turn, our research demonstrates how the attributes of a supplier's relationships with its portfolio of buyers can impact access to new business opportunities and thus opens up new directions for research on firm growth, demand-side strategy and buyer-supplier relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1009-1032
Number of pages24
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Client relationships
  • Demand-side theory
  • Firm growth
  • Professional services
  • Relational advantage
  • Relational embeddedness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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